Is there anything new and notable going on in the world of green product labels?
Yours, Umbra F. Seattle, Wash.
A. Dearest Umbra,
What a good question! Funny, I was just thinking about this very topic.
There are in fact two big things going on in the wild world of product labels: The gummint has issued its first new guidelines for eco-terms in more than a decade, and California voters are embroiled in a meaty debate on whether to label food that contains GMOs.
My landlord has installed new green washing machines and recommends that we use only Ares laundry detergent powder. Is this a green product? Can you recommend a substitute detergent (Ares seems to be available only in bulk)?
Charles D. Cambridge, Mass.
A. Dearest Charles,
You didn’t actually specify which Cambridge you are from, but I took the liberty of adding “Mass.,” since it seems the likeliest place to find a) landlords who proactively install green washing machines and b) letter-writers who don’t feel it necessary to specify which Cambridge they are from.
Before we get to your detergent dilemma, I want to praise that landlord of yours for taking such a sensible step. She or he has recognized that water-efficient, energy-efficient machines will save money -- which could, in turn, help keep your rent down. Now that the machines are in place, this person is protecting a new investment by asking tenants to be thoughtful about which detergent they use.
I don’t think the recommended detergent brand is your only choice, but if the machines are high-efficiency (HE) models, you do need a detergent that’s HE-compatible. I get a version of this question fairly often: “Do I really have to use special soap in my new super-efficient washing machine (or dishwasher)?” The answer is yes.
Have there been any studies done on the nutrient value of food that has been cooked via microwave, oven, or stovetop? For example: broccoli? Someone said microwaves destroy 90 percent of the nutrients in the food, versus steaming on the top of the stove where the loss is only 10 percent. We have been going back to basic, non-processed food that we grow ourselves. I usually only use the microwave to defrost or reheat ... but am I reducing the food value?
The Farmer’s Wife Cotati, Calif.
A. Dearest FW,
It looks like Cotati is in the midst of an interesting downtown revitalization debate. This has nothing to do with your vegetables, but it has a lot to do with the nutrient value of your daily life. I like to see cities thinking hard about how and where they grow.
I also like to see people thinking hard about how and what they eat -- so a tip of the asparagus to you, my dear, for shifting your diet away from processed foods. I hope it is giving you more daily energy and leaving more money in your pocket, just as it should.
The fact is that cooking vegetables will lead to some amount of nutrient loss, no matter the method. This is why people are fans of raw food and its crunchtastic health benefits. But obviously some vegetables do not lend themselves to this approach (raw rutabaga, yum!). So let’s look at your options.
Three main factors affect nutrient loss during cooking: temperature, time, and -- this is the big one -- water.
With mainstream TV having become America's most important message-deliverer, what characters are carrying the sustainability message best to watchers? Any correlation between character behavior and networks, producers, or writers?
Conan S. Ann Arbor, Mich.
A. Dearest Conan,
Come again? I thought I was America’s most important message-deliverer. Forgive me, I need a moment here. And maybe some smelling salts.
OK, I’m fully revived. You know what’s interesting about TV? The number of American households with televisions has actually dropped in the last two years, as has the amount of TV-watching we do. I’m pretty sure, however, this just means people are watching shows on their iPads and such, not choosing to frolic among the flowers instead.
So your assertion stands. And yes, the major networks dabble in various shades of green.
Lately I’ve begun to wonder about those stand-up-by-themselves, foam rubber bras that we women seem to have become addicted to because they provide some modesty (or much needed augmentation) for our spandex blend clothes. Is this stuff (said bras and our spandex-laden wardrobes) going to sit around un-degraded in landfills until after the Second Coming, or is it breaking down into substances that will turn as yet unborn children into 10-toed salamanders?
Should we be just saying no to the fashion industry?
Purrl Gurrl Seattle, Wash.
A. Dearest Purrl,
We should always say no to the mainstream fashion industry, shouldn’t we? It doesn't have our ecological or economic interests at heart.
What do I do with a million unwanted stuffed animals? My kids have amassed a monstrous menagerie of “stuffies,” as they call them. During a recent move, my wife and I managed to stealth away about a quarter of the 125 creatures. But now what? Goodwill doesn’t take stuffed animals. I hate to throw them away, but for the sake of my own sanity and local health codes, they have to go. To quote a Bear of Very Little Brain, “Oh, help!”
Greg Seattle, Wash.
A. Dearest Greg,
Before we dig into the seamy underbelly of stuffed animal disposal, I must point out that the key to reducing waste is reducing consumption in the first place -- though I’m sure you didn’t buy each of the 125 stuffies littering your home. I remember presenting a small stuffed souvenir to a young family member whose mother looked at me, aghast: “I thought you, of all people, would understand.” Cuddly creatures do have a way of piling up -- in our homes and in our landfills.
But back to your question. Your furry friends are, in recycling parlance, textiles. Americans tossed an estimated 13.1 million tons of textiles in 2010, according to the EPA. Roughly 15 percent of that was recycled -- no great shakes compared to the 63 percent recycling rate of paper, but according to the good folks at the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Assocation (SMART), textile recycling is gaining steam.
“All clothing and textiles are recyclable as long as they are clean and dry,” says Paul Bailey, SMART spokesperson. “Even items that are ripped or torn, stained, or missing buttons.” (You hear that, Corduroy?)
Through years of bicycle riding, I’ve never been able to pinpoint the exact reason why bicycle tires suck so badly. One fills a car tire with air maybe once or twice a year (really just checking the overall pressure), but a bike tire, it seems, has to be topped off over and over. Why are bike tires so lousy at their intended job of holding air under pressure?
John B. Ann Arbor, Mich.
A. Dearest John,
Do you view topping off your tires as burden or pleasure? Because I will admit, I enjoy the ritual of checking the air pressure, marveling at how low it has gotten, assuming my best Groucho stance to operate the floor pump, wondering if I’ll expend all my strength before the ride has even begun, then taking off on nice taut tires. It makes me feel vaguely well prepared and vaguely mechanically inclined, two characteristics that are not among my foremost qualities.
I just adopted a small dog with special needs. Because of her health problems, she cannot be walked regularly and thus has come to rely on wee-wee pads to relieve herself at home. But throwing them out and replacing them every day (even the ones made of recycled materials) seems wasteful and breaks my heart every time. Can you suggest a more sustainable solution?
New York, N.Y.
A. Dearest Sammy,
Until your question arrived, I had not given much thought to the “wee-wee pad” issue. My personal experience with the world of wee-wee pads is (thankfully) limited, so I hope your fellow dog owners will chime in here.
The way I see it, this problem is akin to the diaper debate: Should you use disposables, which add heaps of non-biodegradable, plasticky waste to our landfills, or reusables, which require heaps of water and energy to clean? In fact, with 4 million babies born each year in America and about the same number of puppies, we have ourselves a startling parallel. Factor in dogs with special needs and others left indoors to do their business for various reasons, and we might be looking at a full-on wee-wee crisis.
In the past, I’ve assured parents of humans that the disposable vs. reusable choice doesn’t ultimately matter -- each has its pros and cons. Too often, what the diaper debate really does is distract us from thinking about bigger issues like overpopulation and food production. That goes double for Fido.
Back-to-school shopping season is fast approaching, and item No. 1 on the list is a few new pairs of tights for the winter months. Problem is, almost every pair I bought last year ripped after two or three wearings. I understand these things aren’t made to last forever, but I don’t want to throw out so much clothing (and money!) again this year. Do you have any brands you recommend that are more durable and sustainable? Any ways to repair or reuse torn nylons?
A. Dearest Patricia,
I can hear my editor now: “You answered a question about tights? What’s green about that?” Not much, editor. You have a fine, albeit imaginary, point. But this mention of back-to-school shopping reminds me that we should all be thinking about Being Wiser Consumers. (Psst, Patricia: If you want my actual advice about tights, consider skipping the next few paragraphs.)
My father, a lawman, passed away over 20 years ago. A couple of years ago I was going through some old boxes and found 20 or so fairly old bullets. I’m not a gun person and I want to get rid of them safely. I read that some police departments will accept old bullets. I called, but the Houston PD doesn’t, nor did they have a suggestion. I hesitate to put them into the garbage or bury them in the backyard. What if I threw them in a lake? Any suggestions?
A. Dearest Doug,
Well. There are recycling conundrums, and then there are recycling conundrums. Yours is one I don’t think I’ve seen before, but let’s see what we can do -- and thank you for being so thoughtful about this choice.
First of all, do not give in to temptation and throw the bullets in a lake. I’m assuming you suggest this because you’ve heard that submerged bullets will no longer fire, but this is not always true. More to the point, our lakes are not repositories for our trash. On top of that, most bullets contain lead -- you can read all about this notorious neurotoxin at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website. Though lead occurs naturally in soil, we humans have made a practice of adding lots more of it to our immediate surroundings, to the detriment of public health.